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WITH common_table_expression (Transact-SQL)

Specifies a temporary named result set, known as a common table expression (CTE). This is derived from a simple query and defined within the execution scope of a single SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, MERGE, or DELETE statement. This clause can also be used in a CREATE VIEW statement as part of its defining SELECT statement. A common table expression can include references to itself. This is referred to as a recursive common table expression.

Topic link iconTransact-SQL Syntax Conventions


[ WITH <common_table_expression> [ ,...n ] ]

<common_table_expression>::=
    expression_name [ (column_name [ ,...n ] ) ]
    AS
    (CTE_query_definition)
expression_name

Is a valid identifier for the common table expression. expression_name must be different from the name of any other common table expression defined in the same WITH <common_table_expression> clause, but expression_name can be the same as the name of a base table or view. Any reference to expression_name in the query uses the common table expression and not the base object.

column_name

Specifies a column name in the common table expression. Duplicate names within a single CTE definition are not allowed. The number of column names specified must match the number of columns in the result set of the CTE_query_definition. The list of column names is optional only if distinct names for all resulting columns are supplied in the query definition.

CTE_query_definition

Specifies a SELECT statement whose result set populates the common table expression. The SELECT statement for CTE_query_definition must meet the same requirements as for creating a view, except a CTE cannot define another CTE. For more information, see the Remarks section and CREATE VIEW (Transact-SQL).

If more than one CTE_query_definition is defined, the query definitions must be joined by one of these set operators: UNION ALL, UNION, EXCEPT, or INTERSECT. For more information about how to use recursive CTE query definitions, see the following "Remarks" section and Recursive Queries Using Common Table Expressions.

Guidelines for Creating and Using Common Table Expressions

The following guidelines apply to nonrecursive common table expressions. For guidelines that apply to recursive common table expressions, see "Guidelines for Defining and Using Recursive Common Table Expressions" that follows.

  • A CTE must be followed by a single SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, MERGE, or DELETE statement that references some or all the CTE columns. A CTE can also be specified in a CREATE VIEW statement as part of the defining SELECT statement of the view.

  • Multiple CTE query definitions can be defined in a nonrecursive CTE. The definitions must be combined by one of these set operators: UNION ALL, UNION, INTERSECT, or EXCEPT.

  • A CTE can reference itself and previously defined CTEs in the same WITH clause. Forward referencing is not allowed.

  • Specifying more than one WITH clause in a CTE is not allowed. For example, if a CTE_query_definition contains a subquery, that subquery cannot contain a nested WITH clause that defines another CTE.

  • The following clauses cannot be used in the CTE_query_definition:

    • COMPUTE or COMPUTE BY

    • ORDER BY (except when a TOP clause is specified)

    • INTO

    • OPTION clause with query hints

    • FOR XML

    • FOR BROWSE

  • When a CTE is used in a statement that is part of a batch, the statement before it must be followed by a semicolon.

  • A query referencing a CTE can be used to define a cursor.

  • Tables on remote servers can be referenced in the CTE.

  • When executing a CTE, any hints that reference a CTE may conflict with other hints that are discovered when the CTE accesses its underlying tables, in the same manner as hints that reference views in queries. When this occurs, the query returns an error. For more information, see View Resolution.

  • When a CTE is the target of an UPDATE statement, all references to the CTE in the statement must match. For example, if the CTE is assigned an alias in the FROM clause, the alias must be used for all other references to the CTE. Ambiguous CTE references may produce unexpected join behavior and unintended query results. For more information, see UPDATE (Transact-SQL).

Guidelines for Defining and Using Recursive Common Table Expressions

The following guidelines apply to defining a recursive common table expression:

  • The recursive CTE definition must contain at least two CTE query definitions, an anchor member and a recursive member. Multiple anchor members and recursive members can be defined; however, all anchor member query definitions must be put before the first recursive member definition. All CTE query definitionsare anchor members unless they reference the CTE itself.

  • Anchor members must be combined by one of these set operators: UNION ALL, UNION, INTERSECT, or EXCEPT. UNION ALL is the only set operator allowed between the last anchor member and first recursive member, and when combining multiple recursive members.

  • The number of columns in the anchor and recursive members must be the same.

  • The data type of a column in the recursive member must be the same as the data type of the corresponding column in the anchor member.

  • The FROM clause of a recursive member must refer only one time to the CTE expression_name.

  • The following items are not allowed in the CTE_query_definition of a recursive member:

    • SELECT DISTINCT

    • GROUP BY

    • HAVING

    • Scalar aggregation

    • TOP

    • LEFT, RIGHT, OUTER JOIN (INNER JOIN is allowed)

    • Subqueries

    • A hint applied to a recursive reference to a CTE inside a CTE_query_definition.

The following guidelines apply to using a recursive common table expression:

  • All columns returned by the recursive CTE are nullable regardless of the nullability of the columns returned by the participating SELECT statements.

  • An incorrectly composed recursive CTE may cause an infinite loop. For example, if the recursive member query definition returns the same values for both the parent and child columns, an infinite loop is created. To prevent an infinite loop, you can limit the number of recursion levels allowed for a particular statement by using the MAXRECURSION hint and a value between 0 and 32,767 in the OPTION clause of the INSERT, UPDATE, MERGE, DELETE, or SELECT statement. This lets you control the execution of the statement until you resolve the code problem that is creating the loop. The server-wide default is 100. When 0 is specified, no limit is applied. Only one MAXRECURSION value can be specified per statement. For more information, see Query Hints (Transact-SQL).

  • A view that contains a recursive common table expression cannot be used to update data.

  • Cursors may be defined on queries using CTEs. The CTE is the select_statement argument that defines the result set of the cursor. Only fast forward-only and static (snapshot) cursors are allowed for recursive CTEs. If another cursor type is specified in a recursive CTE, the cursor type is converted to static.

  • Tables on remote servers may be referenced in the CTE. If the remote server is referenced in the recursive member of the CTE, a spool is created for each remote table so the tables can be repeatedly accessed locally. If it is a CTE query, Index Spool/Lazy Spools is displayed in the query plan and will have the additional WITH STACK predicate. This is one way to confirm proper recursion.

  • SQL Server 2008 does not allow for analytic and aggregate functions in the recursive part of the CTE.

A. Creating a simple common table expression

The following example shows the number of employees reporting directly to each manager at Adventure Works Cycles.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
WITH DirReps(ManagerID, DirectReports) AS 
(
    SELECT ManagerID, COUNT(*) 
    FROM HumanResources.Employee AS e
    WHERE ManagerID IS NOT NULL
    GROUP BY ManagerID
)
SELECT ManagerID, DirectReports 
FROM DirReps 
ORDER BY ManagerID;
GO


B. Using a common table expression to limit counts and report averages

The following example shows the average number of employees reporting to managers.

WITH DirReps (Manager, DirectReports) AS 
(
    SELECT ManagerID, COUNT(*) AS DirectReports
    FROM HumanResources.Employee
    GROUP BY ManagerID
) 
SELECT AVG(DirectReports) AS [Average Number of Direct Reports]
FROM DirReps 
WHERE DirectReports>= 2 ;
GO


C. Referencing a common table expression more than one time

The following example shows the total number of sales orders and the most recent sales order date in the SalesOrderHeader table for each salesperson. In the running statement, the CTE is referenced two times: one time to return the selected columns for the salesperson, and again to retrieve similar details for the salesperson's manager. The data for both the salesperson and the manager are returned in a single row.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
WITH Sales_CTE (SalesPersonID, NumberOfOrders, MaxDate)
AS
(
    SELECT SalesPersonID, COUNT(*), MAX(OrderDate)
    FROM Sales.SalesOrderHeader
    GROUP BY SalesPersonID
)
SELECT E.EmployeeID, OS.NumberOfOrders, OS.MaxDate,
    E.ManagerID, OM.NumberOfOrders, OM.MaxDate
FROM HumanResources.Employee AS E
    JOIN Sales_CTE AS OS
    ON E.EmployeeID = OS.SalesPersonID
    LEFT OUTER JOIN Sales_CTE AS OM
    ON E.ManagerID = OM.SalesPersonID
ORDER BY E.EmployeeID;
GO


D. Using a recursive common table expression to display multiple levels of recursion

The following example shows the hierarchical list of managers and the employees who report to them.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
WITH DirectReports(ManagerID, EmployeeID, EmployeeLevel) AS 
(
    SELECT ManagerID, EmployeeID, 0 AS EmployeeLevel
    FROM HumanResources.Employee
    WHERE ManagerID IS NULL
    UNION ALL
    SELECT e.ManagerID, e.EmployeeID, EmployeeLevel + 1
    FROM HumanResources.Employee e
        INNER JOIN DirectReports d
        ON e.ManagerID = d.EmployeeID 
)
SELECT ManagerID, EmployeeID, EmployeeLevel 
FROM DirectReports ;
GO


E. Using a recursive common table expression to display two levels of recursion

The following example shows managers and the employees reporting to them. The number of levels returned is limited to two.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
WITH DirectReports(ManagerID, EmployeeID, EmployeeLevel) AS 
(
    SELECT ManagerID, EmployeeID, 0 AS EmployeeLevel
    FROM HumanResources.Employee
    WHERE ManagerID IS NULL
    UNION ALL
    SELECT e.ManagerID, e.EmployeeID, EmployeeLevel + 1
    FROM HumanResources.Employee e
        INNER JOIN DirectReports d
        ON e.ManagerID = d.EmployeeID 
)
SELECT ManagerID, EmployeeID, EmployeeLevel 
FROM DirectReports 
WHERE EmployeeLevel <= 2 ;
GO


F. Using a recursive common table expression to display a hierarchical list

The following example builds on Example C by adding the names of the manager and employees, and their respective titles. The hierarchy of managers and employees is additionally emphasized by indenting each level.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
WITH DirectReports(Name, Title, EmployeeID, EmployeeLevel, Sort)
AS (SELECT CONVERT(varchar(255), c.FirstName + ' ' + c.LastName),
        e.Title,
        e.EmployeeID,
        1,
        CONVERT(varchar(255), c.FirstName + ' ' + c.LastName)
    FROM HumanResources.Employee AS e
    JOIN Person.Contact AS c ON e.ContactID = c.ContactID 
    WHERE e.ManagerID IS NULL
    UNION ALL
    SELECT CONVERT(varchar(255), REPLICATE ('| ' , EmployeeLevel) +
        c.FirstName + ' ' + c.LastName),
        e.Title,
        e.EmployeeID,
        EmployeeLevel + 1,
        CONVERT (varchar(255), RTRIM(Sort) + '| ' + FirstName + ' ' + 
                 LastName)
    FROM HumanResources.Employee as e
    JOIN Person.Contact AS c ON e.ContactID = c.ContactID
    JOIN DirectReports AS d ON e.ManagerID = d.EmployeeID
    )
SELECT EmployeeID, Name, Title, EmployeeLevel
FROM DirectReports 
ORDER BY Sort;
GO


G. Using MAXRECURSION to cancel a statement

MAXRECURSION can be used to prevent a poorly formed recursive CTE from entering into an infinite loop. The following example intentionally creates an infinite loop and uses the MAXRECURSION hint to limit the number of recursion levels to two.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
--Creates an infinite loop
WITH cte (EmployeeID, ManagerID, Title) as
(
    SELECT EmployeeID, ManagerID, Title
    FROM HumanResources.Employee
    WHERE ManagerID IS NOT NULL
  UNION ALL
    SELECT cte.EmployeeID, cte.ManagerID, cte.Title
    FROM cte 
    JOIN  HumanResources.Employee AS e 
        ON cte.ManagerID = e.EmployeeID
)
--Uses MAXRECURSION to limit the recursive levels to 2
SELECT EmployeeID, ManagerID, Title
FROM cte
OPTION (MAXRECURSION 2);
GO

After the coding error is corrected, MAXRECURSION is no longer required. The following example shows the corrected code.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
WITH cte (EmployeeID, ManagerID, Title)
AS
(
    SELECT EmployeeID, ManagerID, Title
    FROM HumanResources.Employee
    WHERE ManagerID IS NOT NULL
  UNION ALL
    SELECT  e.EmployeeID, e.ManagerID, e.Title
    FROM HumanResources.Employee AS e
    JOIN cte ON e.ManagerID = cte.EmployeeID
)
SELECT EmployeeID, ManagerID, Title
FROM cte;
GO


H. Using a common table expression to selectively step through a recursive relationship in a SELECT statement

The following example shows the hierarchy of product assemblies and components that are required to build the bicycle for ProductAssemblyID = 800.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
WITH Parts(AssemblyID, ComponentID, PerAssemblyQty, EndDate, ComponentLevel) AS
(
    SELECT b.ProductAssemblyID, b.ComponentID, b.PerAssemblyQty,
        b.EndDate, 0 AS ComponentLevel
    FROM Production.BillOfMaterials AS b
    WHERE b.ProductAssemblyID = 800
          AND b.EndDate IS NULL
    UNION ALL
    SELECT bom.ProductAssemblyID, bom.ComponentID, p.PerAssemblyQty,
        bom.EndDate, ComponentLevel + 1
    FROM Production.BillOfMaterials AS bom 
        INNER JOIN Parts AS p
        ON bom.ProductAssemblyID = p.ComponentID
        AND bom.EndDate IS NULL
)
SELECT AssemblyID, ComponentID, Name, PerAssemblyQty, EndDate,
        ComponentLevel 
FROM Parts AS p
    INNER JOIN Production.Product AS pr
    ON p.ComponentID = pr.ProductID
ORDER BY ComponentLevel, AssemblyID, ComponentID;
GO


I. Using a recursive CTE in an UPDATE statement

The following example updates the VacationHours value by 25 percent for all employees who report directly or indirectly to ManagerID 12. The common table expression returns a hierarchical list of employees who report directly to ManagerID 12 and employees who report to those employees, and so on. Only the rows returned by the common table expression are modified.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
WITH DirectReports(EmployeeID, NewVacationHours, EmployeeLevel)
AS
(SELECT e.EmployeeID, e.VacationHours, 1
  FROM HumanResources.Employee AS e
  WHERE e.ManagerID = 12
  UNION ALL
  SELECT e.EmployeeID, e.VacationHours, EmployeeLevel + 1
  FROM HumanResources.Employee as e
  JOIN DirectReports AS d ON e.ManagerID = d.EmployeeID
)
UPDATE HumanResources.Employee
SET VacationHours = VacationHours * 1.25
FROM HumanResources.Employee AS e
JOIN DirectReports AS d ON e.EmployeeID = d.EmployeeID;
GO


J. Using multiple anchor and recursive members

The following example uses multiple anchor and recursive members to return all the ancestors of a specified person. A table is created and values inserted to establish the family genealogy returned by the recursive CTE.

-- Genealogy table
IF OBJECT_ID('Person','U') IS NOT NULL DROP TABLE Person;
GO
CREATE TABLE Person(ID int, Name varchar(30), Mother int, Father int);
GO
INSERT Person VALUES(1, 'Sue', NULL, NULL);
INSERT Person VALUES(2, 'Ed', NULL, NULL);
INSERT Person VALUES(3, 'Emma', 1, 2);
INSERT Person VALUES(4, 'Jack', 1, 2);
INSERT Person VALUES(5, 'Jane', NULL, NULL);
INSERT Person VALUES(6, 'Bonnie', 5, 4);
INSERT Person VALUES(7, 'Bill', 5, 4);
GO
-- Create the recursive CTE to find all of Bonnie's ancestors.
WITH Generation (ID) AS
(
-- First anchor member returns Bonnie's mother.
    SELECT Mother 
    FROM Person
    WHERE Name = 'Bonnie'
UNION
-- Second anchor member returns Bonnie's father.
    SELECT Father 
    FROM Person
    WHERE Name = 'Bonnie'
UNION ALL
-- First recursive member returns male ancestors of the previous generation.
    SELECT Person.Father
    FROM Generation, Person
    WHERE Generation.ID=Person.ID
UNION ALL
-- Second recursive member returns female ancestors of the previous generation.
    SELECT Person.Mother
    FROM Generation, Person
    WHERE Generation.ID=Person.ID
)
SELECT Person.ID, Person.Name, Person.Mother, Person.Father
FROM Generation, Person
WHERE Generation.ID = Person.ID;
GO


Updated content

Added an item in the section 'Guidelines for Creating and Using Common Table Expressions' that describes the CTE name requirements when a CTE is the target of an UPDATE statement.

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